When you are raising chicks, you will need to know what a healthy one looks like to identify if there is something wrong. Observing your chicks as they develop is most rewarding and often amusing. Major milestones will apply to your chicks whether they are free range, roaming with their mother, or in a coop or incubator.

Once they have recovered from hatching, chicks are very active. When they run, they extend their wings and flap them for use as brakes. They stretch in a very precise way, with a wing and leg on one side stretched out pointing to the rear with the wing primary feathers displayed.

They can soon jump onto feeders. However, they do not perch until they are four to six weeks old.

Healthy chicks spend a lot of time chasing and if they turn, face up and stare at each other, this can lead to regular fights by two weeks of age. These fights are only between two birds at a time (usually males) where they grab at neck feathers and pull each other to the ground.

Pecking and feather pulling can cause pain from day 13 and by day 18, weaker chicks can be pulled down and trodden.

Are your chicks dusting?

When chicks are with their mothers they will imitate her dusting activities. They start this as young as day three. Preening of wing and breast feathers may start at day two. Chickens keep their feathers waterproof by preening. They get oil from the uropygial or preen gland located at the base of their tail feathers. You will notice that the chicks rub their beak on an area by the base of their tail. They do this to get the oily/waxy substance from the preen gland. They spread this over their feathers with their beaks. But, they do not use their preen gland until day 14. The preening spells may last up to four minutes.

Chicks will peck at any bright object in the litter and in their environment. This may include nails and staples that can cause death if swallowed, so constant and careful checking of the litter or the area where they spend their day is most important.

Scratching

Chicks start litter scratching from day two. Usually they scratch once with the right leg, then twice with the left, then once with the right and so on, while the litter is flicked over with the beak.

The whole sequence takes about 15 seconds and occurs in the best-lit areas first. If the environment is too cold, litter may be eaten and the gizzard impacted.

What are a healthy chick’s developmental milestones?

Healthy chicks rest a great deal of time after hatching, but this decreases up to three and a half weeks. Then, around eight weeks they rest more again for a short while. Females tend to rest more than males.

Leg stretching is most noticeable (especially in males) at for to seven weeks old and then decreases.

Chicks delight in scratching from the first week. This activity declines to almost nothing at seven weeks and then reappears at nine weeks old.

Chicks will scratch their surroundings.

As feather begin to grow, preening will increase.

As they get older chicks stop running about. Frolicking increases up to week four and then declines as sparring starts. This will reach a peak at week five.

By week seven fighting in earnest begins, and this pecking reaches a peak at eight weeks. The flock will establish a clear pecking order at this time.

For more on caring for chicks, click here.

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